This is the first hypothetical in our series showing how well-intentioned employers can violate unfamiliar state laws.
Navigating the treacherous waters of federal employment law is not easy. Well-intentioned employers can unknowingly violate some of the more complicated (albeit well-known) laws like the Family & Medical Leave Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act due to a lack of familiarity with the applicable regulations or the case law interpreting them. When an employer has operations in multiple jurisdictions, the analysis becomes even more complex due to circuit splits on pivotal issues.
With so much to worry about on the federal front, it is no wonder that human resources personnel, in-house counsel, and outside counsel often do not spend sufficient time and resources staying apprised of some of the more obscure state laws on the books. If you are reading this article, you almost certainly have internal or external clients relying on you to give them accurate advice whether the applicable statute is federal or state, well-known or obscure, recently-passed or decades old. The purpose of this article is to highlight the importance of this obligation through four different hypothetical examples over the next few weeks of well-intentioned employers violating unfamiliar state laws.
For purposes of the hypothetical examples, assume you are in-house counsel for a large restaurant chain with operations throughout the United States. You do not have human resources personnel in each state, and you often are called upon to render advice regarding the legality of various employment decisions.